Rarely do I feel the need to read a second book by the same author. However The Homecoming Party, by the same author, was such a delight that I had to not only add Between Two Seas to my shelves, but also had to read it soon!
I have already read about 40 pages. I am now thinking that this could be one of my favorite authors. I immediately fall for the descriptive and perceptive prose. The characters come alive. The grandmother is soft and you just want to be hugged by her, smelling the aroma of her kitchen. The father has a plastered on smile. The mother is laughing and kissing everybody. She is so happy to be again visiting her home in the Calabrian village. And the grandfather, well I want to know the story behind this Calabrian grandfather, who is one minute boisterous and fun, the next, black with anger. The story is narrated by the grandson, Florian. His grandfathers are the best of friends, one German(Hans Heumann) and one Calabrian(Giorgio Bellusci). Fabian is a child of two countries and two cultures. The novel takes place in the 1950s, with episodes dating back to the 1800s when we learn of even earlier Calabrian descendants. This is the story of these lives. It is also the story of these characters' dreams....
On completion: Actually this is a novel about dreams, about how each of us has to decide what our own individual dreams and goals will be. What is most important to each of us. I am not so sure this is omething we decide. Isn't it perhaps something that we are simply born with, something we each seek to fulfil?
In this book each person in the family is both part of the family with characteristics common to that family and the culture of that family, but also each is unique. Yes, they all love each other as family members do, but at the same time they can laugh at each other's insane foibles.... This feels so real, and it makes the book something we can all relate to.
I will give a few examples, but remember the nastiness expressed isn't really mean, it is just saying in a nutshell (and with humor) how the person IS.
"Your father? He's nothing but a stack of paper, with a square computer monitor for a head and a pair of deranged little eyes that still don't know the Berlin Wall came down a long time ago." (page 90)
Banking, mortgages and financce, that was what ruled his life. These were his prime interests. And Florian's mother? Who was she at the core?
He (the father) barely noticed that we had come home, and our mother, romantic and in love as she was, took it hard. Worst of all, upon our return the house resembled a pig stye, she said, especially the kitchen: there wasn't a single clean dish, spoon or even a knife, with which to cut her husband's head off. The only way to get into his study...... (page 121)
My mother was relaxed that summer; she was blooming like a cherry tree in our backyard. It is just incredible, I thought to myself, the years go by, life poisons her blood, but in the end she is always renewed, as if time tickled her as it passes....Maybe it was her son, the other one, her youngest, the just eight-and-a-half years old, who kept her young. (page 141)
This is also a "coming of age" novel. Florian sees his parents and the other members of his family, their good qualities and their craziness, and from this he has to figure out what he will do with his own life. Where does he fit in. What is wonderful is that you see how his parents and his grandparents have made other choices. They are all different. None are right, none are wrong. I loved learning about the grandfathers' choices too. One a photographer. One simply must restore the inn that has been in the family for generations. The odds are really against him. In fact the inn existed when Alexander Dumas visited and stayed there in the 1830s. That too is a wonderful story! Also keep in mind where this novel takes place. What is the area known for?
I will say right off the bat, that if you are to choose one of these two novels, the Homecoming Party or Between Two Seas, choose the former. In my views it is a bit better. In the latter one, the reader is for quite some time confused about who is who. Grandfathers and grandsons often have identical names. Until you realize this, you can be confused. So there are two Gioacchino's and two Giorgios. There are even two different dogs named Milord..... Neither is there a map. It is not essential, but it would have been nice. I highly recommend getting out your atlas. The inn that is the dream of Giorgio is between two seas, the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian. And Florian is also between two seas, but in a cultural sense. So the title is perfect!
And the ending - well, I liked it. It isn't really sad! That is of course debatable. Jeeze, maybe I should have given this four stars.....